Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
23 Jul 2006
MENOTTI : Concerto for Violin and Orchestra / Cantilena e Scherzo / Canti Della Lontanza / Five Songs
Most Opera Today readers are probably familiar with Gian Carlo Menotti largely through his operas (The Medium, The Consul, Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Telephone, and others), and, if they teach or coach voice, may be more familiar than they’d like to be with pieces like “This is my box” and “Monica’s Waltz”, which have long been mainstays of the
“American aria” branch of repertoire for young singers.
instrumental music, and even his songs, are likely to be unfamiliar
territory. At least they were for me, and would have remained so, if this CD
had not shown up on my radar screen because the final 30 minutes or so of the
71-minute program comprise two sets of Menotti’s songs, performed
beautifully by Christine Brewer and Roger Vignoles.
Both of these artists bring their considerable talents to presenting these
songs, and the resulting performance certainly makes a case for the songs to
be better known. Unfortunately, the listener is given little help in this
area because the texts (written by Menotti himself) are not included in the
booklet. We find out that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf commissioned the Canti
della lontananza and are told that the songs are said to have been
written in response to the departure of Menotti’s partner, Samuel
Barber, from their life together. And, since Brewer’s English diction
is quite good, a determined listener (e.g. one who has to write a review) can
catch about 90% of the words to the Five Songs, enough to get the sense of
what the songs are about. And perhaps a fluent Italian speaker can do the
same with the Canti della lontananza, but I had to go through a
network of colleagues to find a copy of the Italian texts, and work out my
own translations from that—again, enough to know what the songs are
about. But how many listeners are going to work that hard? Whether
attributable (charitably) to copyright difficulties or (uncharitably) to a
producer whose background may be so firmly in instrumental music as to be
unaware of the importance of text in vocal performance, this is a grievous
These songs have been likened to operatic scenas, and in some spots they
do sound that way, particularly at the end of “La Lettera”, when
Brewer brings her full vocal and emotional force to express a phrase that
calls for it. But I hear a great deal of intimacy in these pieces, and the
piano line is as important as the voice in many places. I would not say the
texts are truly poems so much as an attempt by a sensitive and observant mind
to make sense of one’s feelings (or, at some points, one’s
curious lack of feelings) in the course of letting go of a relationship
(which is why it is easy to believe that they could have been written in
response to such an experience). Consistent with Menotti’s musical
work, the pieces are tonal, and the 1983 Five Songs in particular
are quite melodic. The Canti della Lontananza, while certainly not
completely declamatory or unmusical, sound more melodic in this performance
than perhaps they really are: one of the strengths that Brewer brings to this
music is the ability to sing a rather unlikely vocal line with expressive
phrasing and consistency between registers so that the line flows very
naturally. While there is a general sense of melancholy and loss pervading
both sets, songs like “My Ghost” and “Il settimo bicchiere
di vino” have a light enough touch to keep the keep the mood from being
too much of a downer.
Fans of Christine Brewer will not be disappointed in her performance of
these songs. Listeners whose main interest is in the songs themselves should
know that there is another recording of them available on Chandos, which I
have not heard, but it’s possible that the texts are included, which
would be a big plus. Those primarily interested in vocal music might also
prefer the other disc because it includes Menotti’s opera
Martin’s Lie, which may be even more of a rarity than the
passionately lyrical 1952 violin concerto, which receives a masterly
performance on this disc by Ittai Shapira and the Russian Philharmonic
Orchestra under Thomas Sanderling, and the charming 1977 Cantilena e Scherzo
for harp and string quartet, equally well served by the Vanbrugh Quartet and
harpist Gillian Tingay.